Last week we met Alexandra Whisnant, French-trained chocolatier and owner of the boutique chocolate company gâté comme des filles, when she taught us how to temper chocolate without a thermometer. This week, we'll learn how to hand dip creamy ganache fillings into our beautifully tempered chocolate. Like with the tempering process, Alexandra's hand dipped chocolate requires no special equipment, just your willingness to have fun and get your hands deliciously dirty!
Ganache is the creamy, luscious filling found in the middle of chocolates. It is classically made with chocolate and cream and can be flavored with any number of things. The ganache we used for this post was one Alexandra made using Meyer lemons from her sister's back yard. It's important that your ganache is well chilled before you dip your chocolates
From Alexandra: "Ganache is a fat-in-water emulsion. To make it you need to incorporate your fat (chocolate) into your liquid (cream, water, or juice). Cream is already a fat-in-water emulsion, so it is especially good at creating a stable ganache.
"Start with about a 1:1 ratio of chocolate to cream. (The lower the chocolate 'percentage', the less cream you need. If you are using water or juice, you will need less liquid as well.) If you want, you can infuse cream with desired ingredients by warming the cream and leaving it to steep. Add sugar to taste, heating and stirring to dissolve. You can also cold steep your cream overnight.
"Melt chocolate as we did for tempering. Gradually pour your cool or room temp liquid into your melted chocolate and gently whisk, keeping your bowl submerged in the pot of hot water. As you add more and more liquid, the mixture will split and then come back together as an emulsion. Stop adding liquid as soon as it becomes smooth, glossy and thick. Add another handful of chocolate to make the ganache firmer once it sets, stirring until melted.
"To make the Meyer lemon ganache, I emulsified fresh Meyer lemon juice with melted chocolate using this technique. I then poured it into a jelly roll pan (a sheet pan with sides) that was lined with parchment, making sure that it was the thickness I wanted. I let it set up, then covered the surface with plastic wrap and chilled it overnight."
"You will need about the same amount of chocolate to coat your ganache as you put in the ganache filling, so at least half the weight of your ganache. But you definitely need some wiggle room to make it practical (it will go out of temper way too quickly as your supply depletes), so I usually just make a good sized bowl of tempered chocolate and save what is left over."
When cutting the ganache into squares for dipping, be sure to run your knife in hot water to warm it up, wipe it dry with a towel, and then slice into the ganache. You will have to do this in between each cut in order to make a nice, clean slice.
The Set Up
Hand dipping chocolates is easier if you can manage to keep one hand clean and use the other hand for dipping. Usually your dominant hand is your dipping hand, so for righties, the tray of sliced ganache squares should be on your left, the dipping bowl directly right in front of you, and the dipped squares placed to your right. (All instructions have been given for right-handed people. Left-handed folks should just flip the set-up.) The idea is that you want an easy workflow from the sliced ganache to the tempered chocolate dip, to the cooling place.
Alexandra's method isn't complicated but it does need some explaining. The ganache is dipped twice. The first time coats the sides and the bottom — You want to completely submerge the ganache squares up to but not covering the top. The squares are then placed on parchment to cool before being trimmed of any excess chocolate dribbles. How quickly they cool depends on the temperature of your kitchen, but it usually takes around 5 minutes for the chocolate to harden enough to trim.
The squares are then dipped a second time, this time submerging the uncoated top and sides but not covering the bottom. They are then flipped and placed dipped-side-up on the parchment to cool. If you are garnishing the chocolates, place the garnish on the chocolate while they still appear wet. Alexandra recommends garnishing every chocolate immediately after you dip it. The chocolate sets up quickly and if you wait a few seconds too long, nothing will stick to it. "Its nice to put it at a jaunty angle!" she advises.
Like any new thing, at first it will seem a little awkward, but soon you will get the hang of it and fall into a rhythm. The most important thing is to keep an eye on the chocolate and bring it back into temper if it begins to cool too much.
A Reminder on Tempering Chocolate
From our previous post on tempering chocolate: "Continue to stir the chocolate as you dip. If the chocolate cools too much, turns matte, and begins to thicken, place the bottom of the bowl back into the hot water for 1 or 2 seconds. Remove quickly and stir the warmer chocolate up from the bottom and throughout the bowl. Test to be sure it has not gotten too hot and resume dipping."
The Shake and The Flip
Alexandra has a few more technique tips for hand dipping chocolate. After lifting the ganache out of the chocolate, give it a few quick shakes and a little tap on the side of the bowl to get rid of excess chocolate. For the first dip, flip the ganache over so that the bottom of the ganache is now facing the ceiling (in order to visually examine the bottom and let some chocolate slide down the sides) then flip it back and place it down on the parchment: the wet, coated side is facing down. (See video below.)
For the second dip (when you are coating the top of the ganache): dip, shake, tap and flip but don't flip back — place the ganache with the wet side facing up. It helps to grasp the ganache with your thumb and second finger to dip and then use your third finger to nudge the candy into place on the parchment (see picture in slide show.)
A video of the first dip: dip, shake, tap, flip up, flip back, and place on parchment:
Garnishing the top of your chocolates is a fun thing to do. It adds color, decoration, and depending on what you use, it can also add texture. It can hint at what's inside and give you a way of identifying the flavor of the filling. A garnish can be a candied peel such as the one Alexandra used for the Meyer lemon chocolate shown here. You can also flick on a bit of gold leaf, sprinkle on a few chopped nuts or edible glitter, or add a dab of white chocolate.
Dipping with a friend
It's not necessary, but it's nice to have a friend help you dip chocolates. They can stir the chocolate (which helps to keep it in temper) and grab things with their chocolate-free hands when you need them. And of course, they can dip, too, and enjoy the delightful rhythms of dip, shake, tap, and flip!
Beautiful, delicious hand-dipped chocolates make a wonderful treat and a very special gift.
How To Hand Dip Chocolates
What You Need
Firm, cold ganache, any amount
Melted, tempered chocolate, at least equal to the amount of chocolate you used in the ganache plus a little more for good measure
Sharp knife for cutting ganache
2 sheets of parchment paper
Smaller sharp knife for trimming the chocolates
Airtight container and paper cups for storage
Note: It is really helpful to review our post on how to temper chocolate before you begin. The instructions below for dipping chocolates begin in the middle of step 5, when the melted chocolate is cooling to temper.
- Cut the ganache: While your bowl of tempered chocolate is cooling, cut the ganache into squares. Use a sharp knife, run it under hot water to warm it up and then dry it thoroughly. Do this in between each cut. The size is up to you, but on average, go for 1-inch x 1-inch squares for a two-bite piece of chocolate. Return the cut ganache to the refrigerator. Keep an eye on the cooling chocolate as you prepare the ganache, occasionally stirring and testing the chocolate beneath your lower lip (see Step 3).
- Set up your area: (This is for right handed people. Flip if you are left handed.) Place a piece of parchment over a cutting board and place to your right — this is for the coated chocolates. Have your trimming knife and optional garnishes ready next to the cutting board. Place a folded tea towel in front of you for the bowl of tempered chocolate and keep the space to your left free for the chilled squares of ganache.
- Check the chocolate: Check to see if the chocolate is ready for dipping by placing a dot underneath your bottom lip or on the inside of your wrist. It should feel just a little cooler than skin temperature. Place the bowl on the folded towel in front of you.
- Begin to dip the ganache: Remove the ganache from the refrigerator and place it to your left. Hand dipping chocolates is easier if you use one hand for dipping — usually your dominant hand is your dipping hand. Pick up a square of ganache and dip it into the chocolate, top-side down. Release the square and press it gently into the chocolate pool, submerging the ganache up to — but not covering — the top. Lift the ganache gingerly out of the chocolate by its sides with your dipping hand and give it a few quick short shakes over the bowl. Tap an edge of the chocolate on the bowl to remove any excess. Place the chocolate wet side down on the parchment paper on your right.
- Continue and check for temper: Keep dipping the squares of ganache — once you're in the flow of dipping the chocolates, you might find it easiest to pick up the ganache squares with your non-dipping hand and feed them to your dipping hand as you go. Keep an eye on the tempered chocolate to make sure it stays in temper. Continue to stir the chocolate as you dip. If the chocolate cools too much, turns matte, and begins to thicken, place the bottom of the bowl back into the hot water for 1 or 2 seconds. Remove quickly and stir the warmer chocolate up from the bottom and throughout the bowl. Test to be sure it has not gotten too hot and resume dipping.
- Cool and trim the chocolates: Let the chocolates cool until they just harden, about 5 minutes. You may notice that a small pool of excess chocolate has collected on the bottom of some of them. With your smaller knife, trim this away so that the chocolates are even all around. Be careful not to cut off the sides.
- Prep for the second dip: Once all of your chocolates are cooled and trimmed, it's time to dip the top. Move the trimmed, half-dipped chocolates to your left and place a clean sheet of parchment on your right. If you are using a garnish, make sure it's nearby.
- Check the dipping chocolate: Take a look at your tempered chocolate, and if it has cooled too much, follow the instructions above for bringing it back up to temper. You can also take a small break at this point and then just re-temper the chocolate when you return.
- The second dip: Pick up a chocolate. Holding the chocolate by the edges of its coated base, dip it into the chocolate with the top, un-coated side down, so that it is completely submerged up to — but not covering — the bottom. As soon as it is submerged, grasp the chocolate gently by its bottom edges using your thumb and index finger. Remove, shake, and flip your wrist so that the top of the chocolate (the freshly dipped part) is now facing towards the ceiling. (This may or may not create a little curl on the top of your chocolate. Practice!)
- Place on parchment and garnish: With the freshly-dipped top of the chocolate face up, slip it off of your fingers and onto the parchment using your middle finger to lift and push if needed. Gently place the optional garnish on top using your clean hand.
- Repeat: Repeat with the remaining chocolates, keeping an eye on your chocolate so that it doesn't cool too much.
- Trim the chocolates: Once your chocolates have cooled, go over each one and trim off any excess using the small knife.
- Store in an airtight container: If storing your chocolates for any length of time, place them in an airtight container with a layer of parchment in between them. For displaying and gifting, place in individual paper cups. Enjoy!
Any leftover dipping chocolate can be saved and reused. Just pour it out onto a piece of parchment, let it cool and store. It is best used to make ganache, cakes, mousse, hot chocolate, or other creations involving melted chocolate. During the dipping process, small bits of ganache may have fallen into the dipping chocolate, and since ganache contains moisture, it may eventually cause the chocolate to seize up
Additionally, the dipping chocolate can be 'contaminated' by the ganache — if you're dipping a nutty filling for example, you should re-use that chocolate for your next chocolate recipe containing nuts.
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(Image credits: Dana Velden)